Distorted map of India by ABC Play School leaves Indian-Australian parents ‘angry’

"I was not just shocked but also very dismayed, and to some extent even angered, to see the lack of research in portraying the map of India."

Saima Beg, a Sydney-based illustrator and painter of Indian origin loves to create material appropriate for children learning and explain them to her 4-year-old daughter.

On 26 June Sunday afternoon as Saima was watching ABC’s Play School program (broadcast around 3.30 pm) with her daughter, she was “shocked and dismayed” to see the distorted map of India showcased to teach young children about Indian culture.

Saima told The Australia Today that whenever something educational related to India comes on Australian TV channels she makes sure her daughter watches it.

“I make it a point to watch it with my daughter Kyra so that she keeps connected with our rich culture and heritage.”

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Kyra watching ABC Play School (Supplied)

She further said, “While watching this episode of Play School about Indian culture, a range of emotions ran through me as I was not just shocked but also very dismayed, and to some extent even angered, to see the lack of research in portraying the map of India.”

“To my horror, this map showcased on ABC’s program had integral parts of India such as Jammu and Kashmir and the majority of North East India missing.”

added Ms Beg.

The regions clearly missing from this representative map of India include Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nagaland, and Tripura.

Play School is Australia’s most-watched TV show for children. In 2021, Fiji-Indian origin actor and screenwriter Leah Vandenberg created one of the first Indian episodes from ABC Play School featuring a Punjabi tune for kids using Tumbi and Dhol.

Saima who is an illustrator and artist said that she understands “artistic license” but this was an “outright misrepresentation of the geographical boundaries of India”.

She believes,

“Trying to educate children with such ‘an ill-researched program’ will ‘mislead’ Indian-Australian children.”

Just a few hundred kilometres away in Melbourne with the largest Indian Australian community impact of such distorted map specifications can be seen in the younger generation who are born in Australia and are learning through tools like ABC Play School.

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Gaurav Kumar Solanki is a healthcare worker with one of the major Hospitals in Melbourne.

He told The Australia Today, I and my wife both work shifts ranging morning, evening and night. We rely on childcare and ABC Playschool programs for kids’ learning and entertainment.

“I could not believe it when my 7-year-old son showed me the map of India he drew while watching ABC Playschool in his childcare.”

Map of India drawn by Gaurav’s son Aditya

Gaurav told The Australia Today, “I was so upset with it that I wrote a letter complaining about the distorted map to ABC.”

He is yet to hear back from ABC.

This is not the first instance of misrepresentation of Indian borders by a public broadcaster. In 2017, the Indian community and India’s High Commissioner in Australia had lodged a formal complaint when Australia’s multicultural public broadcaster SBS had used a map of India showing the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir as disputed territory ironically in a program broadcast on 15 August, India’s Independence Day. 

Complaints were filed with SBS for showing the above map (SBS screenshot)

A change.org petition noted: “This act is highly offensive for Indian Diaspora and seems to be agenda-driven on the part of SBS. Jammu and Kashmir, like any other state, is an integral part of India and such attempts by SBS would be seen as a direct attack on the sovereignty of India. No Indian, whether in India or overseas would tolerate such propaganda.”

The anger in the Indian community also prompted Michelle Rowland MP (currently Federal Minister for Communications) to write a strong-worded letter to then SBS CEO Michael Ebeid: “I am informed by a number of my constituents that this map has caused great offence to many Indian-Australians in our community… I would be very grateful for your serious consideration of these concerns.”

An SBS spokesperson was quoted in local media: “SBS World News appreciates that both India and Pakistan lay claim to Kashmir and administer separate parts of the region. The map is designed to be seen as an element within a video, not as a still image. The video shows the changes in boundaries over the past 70 years. It also makes it clear that the Kashmir region is a disputed territory.”

Inaccurate map of India – BBC – Twitter.

Last year, the UK’s public broadcaster BBC had to issue an apology for displaying an incomplete map of India which didn’t include Jammu and Kashmir. This map was part of a video broadcast about President-elect Joe Biden on BBC World Service titled ‘US Election 2020: What do countries around the world want from Joe Biden’.

A BBC spokesperson said: “From London we mistakenly published a map of India online which contained inaccuracies and is not the standard map used by BBC News. It has now been corrected. We apologise for any offence caused.”

Political map of India (https://surveyofindia.gov.in/documents/polmap-eng-11012021.jpg)

The first set of data from the 2021 census has been released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and it shows that in 2021 more than 600,000 residents were born in India. In this surge, India-born people have now overtaken people born in China and New Zealand. This is an increase of 220,000, or 47.9% per cent, since the 2016 census.

Saima hopes that public broadcasters and other media organisations in the future will do due diligence before reporting on the ever-increasing Indian diaspora and the rich and vibrant socio-cultural traditions they bring to Australia.

The Australia Today has emailed ABC regarding their policy on using map of India and will update the story with their response.